“Literature is among the strongest cultural bridges between Türkiye and India”

Says Firat Sunel, Ambassador-International Lawyer- Novelist and Scriptwriter and Turkiye’s Ambassador to India, Nepal and Bhutan, in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

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Firat Sunel
Firat Sunel

Firat Sunel is currently the Turkish Ambassador to India Nepal and Bhutan. He is an international lawyer, a career diplomat and an author. Sunel’s published novels in Turkish are Izmirli my last love, the Lighthouse Family and In the Shade of the Weeping Will ows which inspired a TV series.

His novels have been translated into more than ten languages include Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil in India. The Lighthouse Family is published by Penguin India in 2024.

In 2023, Türkiye participated in the New Delhi World Book Fair for the first time after decades. Last year, India was the focus country at the TÜYAP Istanbul Book Fair, one of the largest in the world. This past January, Türkiye was the guest of honour at the Kerala Literature Festival. Here, Firat Sunel, Ambassador-International Lawyer- Novelist and Scriptwriter and Turkiye’s Ambassador to India, Nepal and Bhutan, shares more.

AABP: As the Turkiye’s Ambassador to India, do tell us your views how the literary friendship can be strengthened.

Firat: I am happy to see that literature is among the strongest cultural bridges between Türkiye and India. Literary works cultivate a deeper understanding of other societies and cultures, helping people to get to know each other. We therefore attach importance to national participation in Book Fairs in both countries.

Besides active participation at book fairs and literature festivals, translation of literary works into local languages also contribute to cultural relations. Today, there are many Indian writers whose works have been translated to Turkish. More than a hundred Turkish literary works have been translated to various Indian languages and the number of translated works are growing every passing day.

AABP: What inspired you to become an author?

Firat: Being a novelist has been my dream since the day I learned to read and write. My interest in reading soon led me to writing. I wrote my first novel in the 3rd grade of primary school. It was an amateur endeavour, of course, but finishing it was just as important as starting it. Then I wrote short stories, which did not get published. My first novel, In the Shade of the Weeping Willows, which became a bestseller in Türkiye, was published when I was in my forties.

AABP: Do tell us about your book The Lighthouse Family.

Firat: Since I can think in my mother tongue, I write my novels only in Turkish.

The Lighthouse Family is a historical novel. The story is told through the eyes of a little boy who lives in a lighthouse on the western most tip of Türkiye. The story begins against the backdrop of the Second World War. But it is not a war novel, as Türkiye was not at war. It is more of a poignant family drama. Our little protagonist lives in this lighthouse with his two siblings far away from anywhere, anything and anyone. The children are not only siblings, but also closest friends and playmates. They are so attached to each other,we see unbreakable sibling bonds in every line of the novel.

They live at a time of war, a war that is not even their own country’s! Even though they are not at war, Turkish people suffer from the war in the form of poverty and deprivation. It is also the story of how Türkiye helped the Greeks who were starving under the Nazi occupation, and how Turks opened their arms to people fleeing the occupation, the same Greek people who had come to occupy Anatolia just twenty years earlier. We witness Türkiye’s recent turbulent political journey too.

Against this backdrop,the first chapter is called “The Best Time of Our Lives”. Yes, despite the war, the siblings had the best time of their lives. For them, the war was just a game. But slowly, as the horrors of the war creep in, their life changes and they come to grasp its tragedies.

So, this is a multi-layered book that has stories embedded in the main story. The more one reads the more one feels like a member of the Lighthouse Family.

AABP: Your experience in working with Penguin Random House India.

Firat: It is a wonderful experience to work with such a prestigious publisher. It has a huge brand value, readers say “if Penguin publishes a book, it must be good.” There is professionalism at every level, and as an author I don’t have to concentrate on anything but writing.

AABP: Which all languages have Lighthouse Family been translated in.

Firat: My books have been published in more than 10 languages so far. Besides English, The Lighthouse Family has been translated into Kannada, Malayalam and Arabic. It will also be published in Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Dzongkha (Bhutan) and Romanian later this year.

AABP: Do give a brief insight about the other books you have written and which all languages they have been translated in.

Firat: I have four books published so far, three of which are novels. Two more novels of mine are about to be completed soon. My first novel “In the Shade of the Weeping Willows” was published in 2011 and became a bestseller with six editions so far. It was also adapted into a series. It is about the drama of Meskhetian Turks exiled during the Soviet Union in 1944. More than 1 Lakh people are taken forcibly from their homes one night and sent to different parts of Central Asia in train wagons. 30,000 people die on the way, families are torn apart. It is a great pain that is not well known in history. My second novel “?zmirli My Last Love” will be published in English by Penguin Random House India later this year. In this novel, which is a psychological thriller, I tell the story of an unfulfilled and obsessive love, through the eyes of a woman.

AABP: Describe your journey as an author and what are your future plans in terms of books you want to write about?

Firat: The relationship between the pen and the writer is one of interdependence. Neither the writer can live without the pen nor the pen without the writer. Once you start writing, you cannot stop. Sometimes you dominate the pen, sometimes the pen dominates you. Writing becomes a novelist’s way of life. So, I will continue to write. At least two novels will come out about India.

AABP: In this digital age, what do you feel is the importance of reading and different formats in which people are consuming content.

Firat: No matter how much we resist, the digital world is taking over our lives. I prefer books in print because you don’t just read them with your eyes. You touch, feel and smell them, it is a sensory experience. Is there anything like the smell of a book? But it is also true that digital books are very practical and cheaper. I think both can work together.

AABP: What do you feel about Book to screen adaptations.

Firat: Adapting a book into a screenplay enhances the visibility and the reach of the book. I experienced this with my first novel, “In the Shade of the Weeping Willows” after it was adapted to a series. However, it is inevitable that there will be some losses in literary value and differences when the book is adapted into a film, that is, when it is turned into a visual form. The author must be willing to accept this.

AABP: Your views on different Literature Festivals and Book Fairs in India.

Firat: Literature festivals in India reflect the colourful character of the country. That’s why they are so lively and diverse. Not only fiction, but a broad array of literature, including on politics and foreign policy, feature on their busy programmes. That is why as a diplomat and a writer, I attach great importance to participating in literary festivals. I attend the Jaipur Literature Festival every year. The Lighthouse Family was launched at the JLF this year. I have also participated in the Bengaluru Literature Festival and the Mathrubhumi Festival of Letters in Trivandrum, where I spoke about Turkish literature and diplomacy.

In January, Türkiye was the guest of honour at the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode, the UNESCO City of Literature. I think it did a lot to promote Türkiye and cultural relations between the two countries. Many writers from Türkiye came and participated in panels. More than 5000 people watched the performance of the whirling dervishes from Konya. We introduced Turkish food and a calligraphy exhibition. All the motor rickshaws in the festival area were named after different cities in Türkiye.

We will actively seek to promote Turkish literature in Book Fairs and Literature Festivals in India in the future too, in order to deepen cultural relations between our countries.

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